Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Brunswick, ME, United States

The collapsing US military & economic empire is making Washington & NATO even more dangerous. US could not beat the Taliban but thinks it can take on China-Russia-Iran...a sign of psychopathology for sure. @BruceKGagnon

Friday, November 13, 2009


I wasn't quite sure I was going to make it here. A long flight to Oregon in these days of airline decline can be a difficult journey. Mine was.

It took me so long to get out of Portland, Maine's airport yesterday that I missed my connecting fight to Portland, Oregon scheduled at 6pm last night. I got to Newark, where I was supposed to catch my Oregon bound flight, about 7pm. Bad weather in the New York area kept us on the ground in Maine.

After standing in line for an hour I was told that all flights to Oregon were gone for the night and that I'd have to take an early flight this morning (Friday) from Newark to Oregon. But I had checked the weather for today and it appeared that more of the same was expected so I had no confidence I'd ever make it off the east coast.

I asked for any flight heading west last night....none were available I was told by a disinterested Continental airlines agent. I knew otherwise, all you had to do was look at the board and you could see all kinds of flights heading west. So I went to another counter in a different part of the airport and was able to get myself on a half-empty flight to Houston, Texas. It arrived in Houston at 1am and by that time I was spent. Even the airport tram was closed by then so I made the long walk to the airport hotel to get a room and a few hours sleep. The rooms were quite expensive but at that point I didn't care.

This morning I got on a 9am flight from Houston to Portland, Oregon and arrived around noon. I was picked up by Linda Short who is organizing my talk tonight in Hood River.

This is a beautiful place, mountains all around and the river separating Oregon from Washington state. The corporation Insitu makes drones and has been bought by Boeing....they want to expand operations.....the drone business is profitable these days. Money for killing and endless war seems to be abundant with little question or regret from either of our two war parties in the nation's capital.

The lure of 700 local jobs is enticing as even the local timber industry I am told recently laid off 25o workers. We are indeed becoming a more militarized culture everyday. I'm glad some have the courage to stand up and say no to military production. It is an honor to be invited to speak to them.

Linda told me that a few of their local peace group members see the economic writing on the wall and are saying that the drones are not so bad because they "protect our troops."

How can you be a self-proclaimed peace activist and not be against sending the troops into war in the first place? It just goes to show that not everyone who claims to be a peacenik is cut out for the task. Some people will do or say anything to make a buck or remain in the good graces of the status quo.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


By David Swanson

If you have an interest in grassroots organizing, international alliance building, the peace movement, the labor movement, the conversion of the U.S. economy from weapons to human needs, the preservation of life on earth (come on, admit it), the weaponization of space, or the autobiographical insights of smart and determined people, then I cannot more strongly recommend that you get a copy of "Come Together Right Now: Organizing Stories from a Fading Empire," by my friend and ally Bruce Gagnon.

Gagnon provides further confirmation of Randy Shaw's thesis in "Beyond the Fields," that the best organizers come out of the United Farm Workers. Gagnon got his training as an organizer working for the UFW in Florida after having grown up Republican, joined the military, and then been reached and persuaded by the peace movement. Gagnon later came to the decision that organizing the poor to demand basic needs was the uphill struggle it was, at least in part, because those with power were directing too many of our resources into wars and militarization. Gagnon became a leader of the peace movement in Florida, and then the leader of an international network of activists called the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.

I was privileged to participate in the Global Network's annual conference last year in Omaha, Nebraska. And just this month Bruce and I spoke at a rally in Maine, where he has made his home for several years. Bruce's book is part autobiography, but it is made up largely of articles and reports and diary entries and even a play that he wrote during the past 20-some years.

These thoughts of an activist and an organizer, as he was thinking them, presented here in chronological order tell a wonderful personal story, but also a story of where our country and world have gone. In early descriptions of campaigns we see Gagnon and his allies able to make use of "mainstream" media outlets. Fourteen years ago he already had a crystal clear grasp on how Washington, D.C., corrupted movements, and he was proposing that all social justice movements get out of that town and engage in grassroots organizing and educating. But he made no mention of investing in communications media. In contrast, five years ago, Bruce was writing about two strategies:

"work hard to reach people by speaking to them directly; and utilize mass communications where possible. When mainstream media is not available to us, create our own and promote it widely."

I recommend visiting the Global Network's website and assisting in that project. Figures in Bruce's book suggest that the United States is spending at least $70 billion a year (as of four years ago, no doubt higher now) on military space development.

"Queen Isabella," Gagnon writes, "began the 100-year process of building the Spanish Armada after Columbus' 'successful' return voyage from the Americas. Spain's naval armada helped create a global war system, that we suffer from today, as all the European powers were soon building navies to 'compete' for control and domination of the sea lanes for resources and markets."

Gagnon suggests that debating whether so-called "missile defense," the offensive intentions of which he documents, can ever work misses the larger view. We are "debating the size of the cannon balls on the Spanish armada ships rather than discussing the long-term implications of creating a new arms race in the heavens." Whether or not "missile defense" ever works, Gagnon writes, it has "already allowed the Pentagon and the aerospace industry to move tens of billions of dollars into research and development programs for space offensive warfare."

According to NASA's director in 2005 Mike Griffin, "For America to continue to be preeminent among nations, it is necessary for us to be the preeminent space-faring nation."

But we are not preeminent in raising life expectancy or lowering infant mortality. We're nowhere near preeminent in reducing poverty or achieving an environmentally sustainable economy or lifestyle. We have no preeminence in educational achievements. Preeminence in job security, limited work hours, paid leave, healthcare, family stability, community support, quality of life, and happiness all belong to other nations. Yet we've given such massive secret unaccountable budgets to the military that a movie in theaters now depicts, in a not entirely fictionalized manner, a program in which people were trained in skills as stupid and fantastical as staring at a goat until it dies -- a program that referred to its trainees as Jedi, clearly influenced by someone having viewed the movie "Star Wars."

Bruce Gagnon's book and his life are models of how, on every level, we can shift our priorities to what, in contrast to Star Wars, we might call earth lives. (Gagnon's book was updated and republished in 2008.)

David Swanson is the author of the new book "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union" by Seven Stories Press. You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town:


Jeju Island, South Korea has been named by UNESCO as an environmental Heritage site

Korean naval base to bring unwanted change
Gagnon encourages Jeju residents to fight for the preservation of the Island

By Nicloe Erwin (Jeju Weekly)

Despite heavy opposition from Jeju residents the proposed Korean naval base is scheduled to begin construction later this year. Jeju Governor Kim Tae-hwan survived a recall vote over his plan to allow the base in early October. The Jeju Elections Commission resolved the vote was invalid after a turnout of only 11 percent of the 33 percent required showed. In lieu of the negative attention surrounding the contradictory notion of missile defense [Aegis destroyer] warships docked at Jeju’s proclaimed “Island of Peace,” people from all over are coming out of the wood work to shout about how destructive the base would be not only to the ideal of a peaceful society, but to the precious environment that will inevitably suffer as well.

The southern part of the island, specifically Gangjeong, the proposed location of the base, bears international significance for multiple reasons. Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space and recently, he visited Jeju to determine the severity of the proposed naval base. He says the most noteworthy reason for the base is structured around the fact that Jeju is the crossroad for the Malaka Straight where 80% of China’s oil is transported from the middle east.

“If the United States is able to militarily choke off the straight then the U.S. would be able to hold the keys to China’s economic engine. As the U.S. economy is collapsing the U.S. military strategy has been determined that the way we will control the world is to control the distribution of oil and natural gas…I believe that the base at Jeju is the key for this particular strategy and particularly for choking off the straight and controlling China,” said Gagnon.

Gagnon believes the base to be a “provocative, dangerous base that makes Jeju Island a target. It makes the island of peace, not an island of peace, but an island of power projection for the US empire… Especially a place that sees itself as a tourist destination to have a military base that would clearly be a target for the Chinese.”

While construction of the base has been confirmed, Gagnon says he hopes the people will continue to fight. Multiple protests have occurred around the island with residents shouting and performing dramatic spectacles like shaving their heads and even writing their protests in blood, yet the proposed plan is scheduled to continue. “I travel all over the world and my experience is that every country I go to it’s the same story. The people’s government, increasingly is controlled by corporate interest and is not listening to the people, so there is a broken connection between real democracy and what I call, an oligarchy,” said Gagnon. He says the people know it is a terrible idea and must persist in doing something about it.

Gagnon says beyond that the island has been designated by the United Nations as an environmentally pristine place. Not only would it destroy the rock formations along the beach says Gagnon, but also destroy the coral and aquatic life it surrounds. Gagnon noted that building naval bases brings in submarines and nuclear powered vessels that will create major pollution problems. Gagnon says it is up to the people of the island to persist in their resistance and provide a voice, not just for the people, but for the environment as well; “Who will speak for the fish, who speak for the coral, who will speak for the water if the people don’t do it? Even if it appears the decision is final, don’t give up because there is always going to be a need for someone to speak up for the part of life that does not have a voice.”


Wednesday, November 11, 2009


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At the tail end of our 50 or so Veterans for Peace delegation in the parade

  • Our chapter of Maine Veterans for Peace was in the Portland Veterans Day parade this morning and the American Legion organizers were not happy with us. In the past they have tried to kick us out of the parade but the City of Portland would not let them give us the boot. They say though we can have only one banner and it must only have our name on it. Today we added a second banner with our "Out of Afghanistan" message on it. I'm certain that next year the Legion will try to keep us out of the parade again. Our thinking is that the parade was originally about Armistice Day which was a celebration of the end of war. But the pro-war folks have turned the message around. The American Legion had clowns in the parade, companies selling their products, but real veterans calling for an end to war is not acceptable to them.

  • The Department of Politics at the University of San Francisco does a publication called Peace Review and they have asked the Global Network to guest edit an edition of the publication on the Star Wars theme. So we have gathered some articles and must turn them over to Peace Review by the end of this week. It's a nice chance for us to take our peace in space message to another audience. Thanks to GN board members Dave Webb (CND in England) and Tim Rinne (Nebraskans for Peace) for serving on the editorial committee along with me.

  • I leave tomorrow for a short trip to Oregon to talk about drones. Peace folks in the Hood River area have been in a raging local struggle to stop the drone manufacturing corporation called Insitu from expanding their operation in their community. Insitu says they want to build huge new facilities and employ 700 people making drones for the military. Boeing Corporation has bought Insitu and is obviously investing big money in expansion. From what I can find out drone manufacturing/testing/basing is now going on, or is planned, in at least seven states (Texas, New Mexico, Oregon, Arizona, Nevada, Maine, New York and Florida). It's a growing concern......

  • You must watch this video below about activists in Corvallis, Oregon who have held a vigil every single day since the war in Afghanistan began.....that is what you would call stick-to-it-iveness!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Was the Health Care bill in the House a winner? Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) was the only progressive Democrat to vote against it....he called it a subsidy for the insurance corporations.

Monday, November 09, 2009


We are going to have a statewide anti-war strategy meeting in Bath on Saturday, November 21 at 1:00 pm. The meeting will be held at the Addams-Melman House (212 Centre St). All are invited.

The meeting will be a chance for us to put our heads together in order to create a coordinated plan in Maine to not only get our members of the House of Representatives to vote against the proposed $50 billion more for war in Afghanistan (the Pentagon is now spending $5 billion a month there) but to get them to recognize the need for them to show more leadership in this effort.

Some ideas for the meeting:

I will suggest we make a statewide flyer on Afghanistan war that asks folks to contact our Congressperson.....print many copies.....have an action day (or weekend) statewide.....where instead of all of us coming to one place for a demo, we stay in our local communities and go door-to-door and drop these leaflets at houses....blanket communities across the state, get lots of people involved, alert the media, have coordinated letters to editor all with same basic instead of us banging on the door of Pingree and Michaud we try to get legions of folks across the state to call their offices from the leaflet and letters and cable TV shows, etc.......

We've got to get beyond our core of local activists, which is solid and dedicated, and reach into our communities and surface new energy that will help us take our anti-war work to the next level.

We know that many people are frustrated and are looking for a good outlet for their rage. We've got to go find these people, ask them to do some simple things like contact our members of Congress, and then hopefully they will be ready to take further steps.

People understand that the wars in Iraq-Afghanistan-Pakistan are killing our economy here at home. They see the cuts in education, social services, and other key areas such as infrastructure. Now we've got to get them to do something.

If we can get the House of Representatives to cut war funding in a serious challenge to the Pentagon and the Obama administration then we are going to really get somewhere. In order to do this though it has to become a major organizing focus of the peace movement in Maine and all over the country.

This real grassroots strategy will be hard work. But it will bear much fruit if we are willing to put the effort into it.


Click on cartoon for full view

New York City-based friend Anne Gibbons does a syndicated cartoon called Six Chix.

You can see how she is mixing into her cartoons the issues we are working on. It's great to know these messages are going out to mainstream newspapers all over the country. That is how you eventually create an unstoppable movement....reach into every conceivable corner of the culture with our ideas.

Good work Anne!


Michael Parenti is an internationally known award-winning author and lecturer. He is one of the nation’s leading progressive political analysts.

Parenti speaks about lies, dissent, and how we arrive at the truth of our situation and still retain our sanity. He raises the question whether the Iraq war was not a failure but a success for some parts of the empire – and why.”Lies, War, and Empire” given May 12, 2007 at Antioch University in Seattle.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


Finally, after living in Maine for over six years, Mary Beth and I made it to Baxter State Park. We drove the three hours north on Saturday morning and hiked for an hour before it got dark and then hiked again for three and one-half hours today in the 209,501 acre park.

Often visible to us as we hiked was Katahdin, Maine's highest mountain. There was a bit of snow on the ground but today the sun was shining and a nice wind blew that kept an invigorating chill in the air.

Throughout the two day walk we only saw six other people inside the park, in addition to the handful of park rangers that we ran into. But mostly it seemed like we had the whole place to ourselves.

It was nice to get away for a bit from the rigors of the world. The quiet was special, the water was soothing, the smell of the pines comforting, the exercise stimulating, and the enormity of the wilderness humbling.

I wished we could have stayed for a week. We appreciated the break even if it was a short one.